Age Affects Piano Motor Skills
A child’s age affects piano motor skills more than any other factor. I’m sure you’ve asked, “Is my child old enough for piano lessons?” But “old enough” in what sense? Mentally, or physically? It turns out that age has the most affect on the physical motor skills.
Thus, the younger the child, the more likely that certain skills have simply not developed fully or even at all. Many younger children understand what we ask of them at the piano, but have difficulty with the physical aspect of carrying it out.
First, a very small child has very small fingers that are best used in a flat position. This goes against conventional teaching that states that the fingers must be curved. The biggest factor in motor skills is age, and the state of the child’s brain hemisphere development. The younger the child, the more difficult it is to grasp mentally the proper position of their tiny fingers.
Delay Hand Position Rules
But if you try to instill “proper hand position” in the average child of this age, you’ll find boredom sets in quickly. You may as well try to herd cats. If a child holds their hand flat, take note of it. But don’t make piano lessons only about that. Let them develop other skills first and they will readily try other positions later.
This is because it is too hard for the child to think about the many demands of a song PLUS hand position. Better to allow them the flat position. Avoid black notes (which we do anyway, for a while) which a flat hand will have trouble reaching.
More Skills Affected By Age
Small children have trouble doing two things at once. This is because a different brain hemisphere usually controls each action and the child’s hemispheres may not yet be connected (“corpus callosum”). A child thinks the dominant finger on each hand is the index finger. Experience has taught them this is true in everything in life so far. But at the piano, the thumb becomes dominant. You’ll have to instill a new instinct.
The prime skill in beginning piano is distinguishing left from right. Without it, you are lost at the keyboard. Many children at beginning piano lesson age are just sorting out this skill. The piano is often a good vehicle to cement their knowledge of, finally, what is left and right. Playing with both hands can cause enough physical discomfort that children claim they are “allergic to left hand.
Kids say they “hate left hand,” etc., when all that is going on is that their brains have not yet learned how to communicate between the two hemispheres. These factors, when you are fully aware of them, may help you accurately judge what a child is really experiencing at the piano.
Left Hand Aversion
For example, take the left hand aversion syndrome. I have a student, nine, who is very talented. But she wouldn’t play with both hands. She could play with either hand marvelously, but refused to combine them.
I was surprised, because this is a very special, intelligent child. But I backed off because I knew the reason for her discomfort. Her brain hemispheres were just beginning to talk to each other.
Piano was helping, but not enough for those two-handed Mozart pieces right now.
I started assigning her songs that used both hands but not at the same time. Then I assigned songs that had only a few times the two hands played together.
Two weeks later she was playing with both hands most of the time, as if she had never claimed to be allergic to the dreaded left hand. What solved her problem was my patience.
I didn’t insist on both hands. She had to want it herself, when she felt comfortable. So I gave her the tools, but she decided how quickly and how she was to use them.
There is no guideline for brain hemisphere status in a child piano student. But you can easily experiment with the child and see their strengths and weaknesses.